Warren Buffett to American CEOs: Please Stop Complaining About Uncertainty

Yesterday in Awesome CEO Letters, Andrew Mason, the founder and fired chief exec of Groupon, wrote perhaps one of the great self-deprecating notes in memory. "I was fired today," he said. "If you're wondering why...you haven't been paying attention."

Today in Awesome CEO Letters, Warren Buffett, the chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, had this to say to CEOs who make a second career complaining about uncertainty in the U.S. economy on cable news:

A thought for my fellow CEOs: Of course, the immediate future is uncertain; America has faced the unknown since 1776. It's just that sometimes people focus on the myriad of uncertainties that always exist while at other times they ignore them (usually because the recent past has been uneventful).

American business will do fine over time. And stocks will do well just as certainly, since their fate is tied to business performance. Periodic setbacks will occur, yes, but investors and managers are in a game that is heavily stacked in their favor. (The Dow Jones Industrials advanced from 66 to 11,497 in the 20th Century, a staggering 17,320% increase that materialized despite four costly wars, a Great Depression and many recessions. And don't forget that shareholders received substantial dividends throughout the century as well.)

Since the basic game is so favorable, Charlie and I believe it's a terrible mistake to try to dance in and out of it based upon the turn of tarot cards, the predictions of "experts," or the ebb and flow of business activity. The risks of being out of the game are huge compared to the risks of being in it.

My own history provides a dramatic example: I made my first stock purchase in the spring of 1942 when the U.S. was suffering major losses throughout the Pacific war zone. Each day's headlines told of more setbacks. Even so, there was no talk about uncertainty; every American I knew believed we would prevail.

The country's success since that perilous time boggles the mind: On an inflation-adjusted basis, GDP per capita more than quadrupled between 1941 and 2012. Throughout that period, every tomorrow has been uncertain. America's destiny, however, has always been clear: ever-increasing abundance.

If you are a CEO who has some large, profitable project you are shelving because of short-term worries, call Berkshire. Let us unburden you.

I post this excitedly and approvingly, not because I think economic uncertainty is a myth, nor because I think Warren Buffett is a saint, but because when executives have a bone to pick with the federal government on political grounds, they too often use the umbrella excuse of "economic uncertainty" to justify their fundamentally political complaints.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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